I Will Never Be The Baba Yaga

HIGH Stalking my prey and exacting righteous vengeance.

LOW Getting shot by a dude who literally appeared out of nowhere.

WTF Why does everyone think they can take John Wick in single combat?

John Wick is a virtuoso of assassination.  Flashes of this are evident throughout Hex as players recreate the master at the height of his powers, stalking his prey and harvesting enemies like wheat.  During these exhilarating moments, Wick’s movements are poetic in their brutality as he does horrible things to horrible people.

…An instant later, he’s shot several times by an enemy appearing out of nowhere and the atmosphere is broken, hindering the experience Bithell Games has tried so hard to create.

It starts out promising, though.  Hex (voiced by Troy Baker) is the antagonist who’s kidnapped Winston, owner of the Continental Hotel, and Charon, the concierge.  Fans of the Wick films will recognize these characters, as well as the famous “neutral ground” the hotel represents.  Newcomers will be a bit puzzled by references that aren’t explained, but they’ll quickly grasp the power-grab plotline as master assassin John Wick comes to settle matters.   

Suitably elegant dialogue goes a long way towards establishing motivations for all involved, as well as adding to the lore already provided by the movies.  I also respect the fact that seeing the three films might help, but they’re not necessary to understand the world or to immediately respect why Wick is so feared.

Mechanically, John Wick Hex is described as a “fast-paced, action-oriented strategy game.”  Players control Wick via simple mouse commands and menu-driven options when encountering enemies.  All movement is turn-based, and there’s no time limit for making decisions or moving John throughout the environments. 

By clicking on a highlighted dot on the map, John will immediately move to that point.  Time pauses between each movement, allowing players full control over the pace and means of engagement.  All information about an enemy is always available, including what weapons he or she is carrying, the direction they’re moving, and when/how they plan to attack John. Overlapping timelines appear at the top of the screen, revealing how long an action will take and whether it will occur before or after any enemy action. 

For example, say John encounters a gunman.  According to the timelines, John will not be able to fire a shot from his weapon before the gunman opens fire on him.  However, he could dodge out of the way or throw his own weapon at the gunman, damaging and stunning him without taking damage. 

Melee works the same way, although John seems to have a speed advantage and always lands the first strike unless he’s engaged with another opponent or surprised. 

Coupled with fierce animations depicting vicious throat strikes, groin kicks, and the like, the combat sequences are thrilling.  John also carries an extremely limited amount of ammunition, meaning he must often procure new firearms as he proceeds.  Many times, it’s a better strategy to melee and conserve ammo for more important targets. 

Unfortunately, the strategy of each encounter is undercut as enemies have a nasty habit of simply appearing onscreen.  It’s possible to scroll around the map looking for points where foes might enter, but they’re often not triggered until John walks past a certain point. Enemy spawns and varieties are also randomized, meaning simply restarting a level and memorizing their locations won’t work. 

It’s irritating to enter an empty map and move a space or two, only to be suddenly surrounded and have to eat damage.  I understand that John takes a beating and still comes through to show consummate skill and resolve in his films, but with limited healing resources available, it just means I spend a lot of time replaying maps hoping for better RNG.

John Wick Hex is saved by little touches.  The gritty aesthetic and wonderful dialogue drew me into its world, and watching John regain focus (basically the mana that powers his special dodges, parries, and rolls) by shaking his head to clear it is a great character-defining moment.  There’s also no greater feeling than competing a stage or a boss fight and watching a replay of John’s handiwork as he dispatches his foes — these clips are strangely exhilarating and (mostly) allowed me to forget the frustration of being killed for the umpteenth time by an enemy I never saw.

John Wick Hex does a lot of things right and has personality to spare.  It can also be irritating — sometimes overwhelmingly so — but it kept me coming back for more, even after realizing that I probably won’t see the end credits anytime soon.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Bithell Games and published by Good Shepherd Entertainment.  It is currently available on the PC and Mac.  This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 9 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game was not yet rated by the ESRB at the time of review.  It contains adult language and intense violence.  John kills human enemies with a variety of firearms and/or martial arts strikes.  The violence is not graphic in nature, but it is constant.  The f-word is used along with other harsh dialogue during cutscenes.   

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers:  All spoken dialogue is subtitled, so no story info will be lost.  However, there are multiple sound cues (such as opening doors alerting a player to an approaching enemy) which often occur off-screen and have no onscreen cue. The game does pause when a new enemy has John is his or her sights, but without the foreknowledge of which direction the enemy has spawned from, planning John’s way through each level becomes more difficult. Subtitles cannot be resized, and there are no additional font choices. This game is not accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no single concise control diagram (example below). The W,A,S,and D keys pan the camera around the various maps, while the mouse wheel or R and F zoom in and out.  Right-clicking on highlighted points moves John the selected number of spaces.  Left-clicking on enemies brings up a menu of various attack and defense options.  Left-clicking a highlighted choice executes that action.

Jeff Ortloff
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